'Back in Black!'
Kittie was formed in 1996, when Mercedes Lander and Fallon Bowman met in an extracurricular gym class. The lead singer and guitarist, Morgan Lander, is Mercedes' sister. Their original bassist was Tanya Candler, but she left the band in 1999 due to health problems. She was replaced with Talena Atfield.
In 2001, Fallon Bowman left Kittie without citing her reasons and eventually started a new project called Amphibious Assault. Tara McLeod replaced her in 2005. The band's guitar technician, Jeff Phillips, filled the spots during tours, but was never officially made a member.
Talena Atfield left in 2002. She was replaced on bass guitar by Jennifer Arroyo. In 2004 they added a fourth member, the second guitarist Lisa Marx, and Jeff Phillips went full time to his side project Thine Eyes Bleed.
Come 2005 and both Marx and Arroyo had left the band, but Kittie quickly added two new members - Tara McLeod on guitar and Trish Doan on bass.
Most fans have stated that this is Kittie's tightest and most musically talented line-up yet. 2005 also brought the debut of Morgan and Mercedes' clothing line Poisoned Black Clothing.
And now, here in 2010, and Kittie have released their fifth studio album, In The Black. Delivering one monkey of an album, they created a 12-track behemoth of unapologetic metal splendor, forging bone-crushing music and penetrating vocals into a snarling beast of blunt force trauma. And better yet, they did it without any drama!
I recently had the opportunity to speak with drummer, and band co-founder Mercedes Lander about life back at age 13, the evolution from Spit to In The Black, about being on ICP's 'Happy Daze' tour, and, of course ... penguins!
Taking it from the top, and Kittie itself was actually formed back in 1996 by both your self and Fallon Bowman, having met in an extracurricular gym class! What are your memories of that fateful day back then? “Our school system in Canada doesn’t really offer stuff like that. I ran into Fallon and it wasn’t very long after that, probably a couple of weeks and we had a band.”
And did you instantly name the band Kittie? “No, no, no … we had about 600 names. But, for the first year, we didn’t really have a name. It was just Morgan, our bass guitar player and myself just jamming in the basement. Just playing hard songs, having a good time. It was quite innocent, actually. We weren’t really setting out to be in a band. We thought that it would be cool to play shows, but it wasn’t something that we thought was obtainable.”
And come 1999, when the band became ready to actually play live, is it true that the name Kittie was chosen because it’s name was a sarcastic finger to what the band sounded like? “Yeah, basically. After the first couple of months of the band, we ended up getting a bass player and we ended up going to Battle of the Bands, because one of our friends bands was playing. They had a sign up sheet for Battle of the Bands, but we still didn’t have a name yet. But we still wanted to sign up and play the show, as it was three months away.”
“So, yeah, we ended up deciding on Kittie because we thought it was the sarcastic thing to do. Really, to be honest with you, we just wanted to trick people and in our 13 and 16 year-old minds, that’s how we were gonna do it.”
If it hadn’t been Kittie what other names were being thrown about? “We were going to be called Swan, at one point, or Swan Song. We had a f**kin’ bunch of crappy names,” she laughs.
My God, Kittie’s line-up since day one has been a bit like a revolving door! “Not necessarily, considering that the band’s been around for 14 years. I mean, you’re not friends with the same people that you were when you were 12, are you? People grow, people change, people get different ideas about certain things and you grow apart. And that’s basically what happened.”
“I mean, considering the amount of time we’ve been together, and the age that we started the band, I’m not surprised that happened. People get different ideas to what they want to do, or they think that they’re better than the group and they want to leave.”
And a lot more glamorous of a look for you ladies! “Well, yeah, to be honest with you, when I go out, when I dress up I can look like that. But, obviously, I have to play shows and so I’m not gonna wear a skirt - I play drums,” she laughs. “So, sitting down back there would be awful! And wearing high heels on stage is just not conventional. But, when I am in my every day attire and I go out with the band, that is what I wear. So, it’s actually not as it we are now wearing anything different than what we would normally wear.”
I also noticed that Spit had you on the front cover, but none of the others did until this new one, In the Black. Was there good reasoning behind this, perhaps? “Yeah, we just kinda wanted to make it full circle. It’s our fifth album and we just kinda wanted to bring it back around.”
Musically, from Spit to now … “Different,” she again laughs.
Yes, absolutely, but Morgan has been quoted as saying: ‘Kittie’s musicianship is the best it’s ever been on In the Black. So what does that mean the musicianship was like on 1999’s Spit?! “Quite poor, actually. I’d like to see 15 year-olds make that kind of music. And you can tell on the album. We didn’t fix anything. We had nine days to record and mix that album. So literally, and to be honest with you, we didn’t have time to fix anything. So, there’s mistakes in there.”
“It was the first time we were recording a big album. We had done demos and stuff like that. But yeah, obviously for the time period it’s good for what it is. But, are we the same band now, absolutely not.”
With regard your past albums, I’ll name the title and you sum up where you were personally (mind, body and soul) when it was being recorded and put together:
Spit (1999) - “I think, more than anything, we were just in awe of what was happening. Basically, we were from a small town in Canada and we had no idea that we would ever get the chance to do this. To have the opportunity to actually put out an album. At the same time though that we recorded that album, we didn’t have a label. We had a lot of labels interested in us at the time, so we just needed a finished product. For the time period, no, we weren’t very good. But, it was a really, really, really interesting time.”
Oracle (2001) - “There were certain people in the band that didn’t want to be there. Certain people that didn’t really give a f**k about anything. But, obviously, it wasn’t Morgan and I,” she laughs. “They would just show up for five minutes, do their thing and then leave. And so Morgan and I just sat there and Morgan would have to go fix all the parts that weren’t played properly! It was just one of those things though. It was still an amazing time. The guy who did In The Black he was the third engineer on Oracle, which is really nice.”
“But yeah, that whole album was definitely a different dynamic for us. By listening to Oracle you can definitely kinda tell that interesting sh*t was going down. There’s a certain person that was just not interested in that whole scenario.”
Until the End (2004) - “I think the songs are there, but for that particular album I just don’t think the production good. I don’t think it was recorded well. You can also kinda tell with the recording of that album that we were just kinda burnt out. We had done 12 US tours previous to that … 12 … not to mention that we went to Europe a few times! So, we were just a band that was super burnt out.”
“We were fighting our label tooth and nail and were in a law suit with them for two or three years, and so we just toured that entire time. We were just burnt out. And I can definitely tell listening to that album now.”
Funeral for Yesterday (2007) - “Again, with that album, the songs are really there, but the recording is just not good. You have a producer chosen for you and they have their own ideas about what they want the album to sound like. And it’s usually not what you want it to sound like! But, sometimes you just have to go with it. And again, the songs are there, but we were all really stressed out around that period of time. The subject matter was a direct result of what we were going through personally and professionally at the time - dealing with life on the road, personnel changes and such.”
In the Black (2009) - “Yeah, In The Black, you can just totally tell it’s just four people just hanging out and having a good time. We lived on a farm, lived in a trailer, and recorded an album. In The Black, I would say that the recording process is the closest to Spit. The feeling of it. We got to do exactly what we wanted, how we wanted it, and so I think, for the most part, it turned out pretty much how we wanted it. We had such a good time doing it. It was like the first time in a long time that the feeling was really right.”
No internal struggles. No bitchiness? “No, and it’s not even about bitchiness, ‘cause that rarely happens. I think men in bands are a lot bitchier than women,” she laughs, “but as a band we’ve gone through so much. There are just so many crazy things that have happened. I’ve never seen another band in our genre that have gone through a lot of the struggles we’ve gone through.”
Morgan said that she wanted In The Black to be a “behemoth of an album” - did you succeed on all fronts? “I think we definitely got what we wanted out of this album. But, here’s the thing. You always record an album and then I won’t listen to it for a couple of months. Then, I’ll put it on and be like, ‘Sh*t, I should have done that differently‘.”
“But, everybody does that. Some of those songs weren’t road tested, but a lot of them were though. We played quite a few of them before we recorded them. And so the songs that are road tested they usually progress a little better. They have a chance to grow. And in a live setting that’s the best way to do it. You see how people react to each song.”
“Recording In The Black was just a breath of fresh air. We had so much fun doing it. It was just great, great.”
Morgan has said she decided to try a different vocal approach for In The Black - less screaming, more singing! Does that mean the whole album should be perceived as more melodic than anything before? “I don’t think so. I think this album is a lot less melodic than Funeral For Yesterday. Funeral For Yesterday had a lot more clean vocals on it. But, I think our actual music is more melodic, yes. It’s not necessarily that she’s singing more melodic, because she’s not.”
And after 14 years in the recording industry, back then though, starting out, did you believe that Kittie would make such a longstanding impact? “I never expected it, but I wanted it though. There’s a difference,” she laughs, “there’s a big difference. But, you just don’t expect those kind of things. How can you?”
What is it about you and Morgan that keeps the core of the band always together? “We’re sisters.”
But sisters can be at each others throats, sometimes … the whole sibling rivalry thing! “Yeah, but we get along really well, despite that whole sister thing. We’re a team man, and to be honest with you, for some reason we have our heads screwed on straight. Our parents must have done something right.”
Have they always been screwed on straight? “For sure, for sure. I never did drugs, never was a bad kid, I never got arrested. I only skipped school twice in High School, and both times I called my mom to ask if I could skip! And she said yes both times!”
And now you find yourself on a Tour with ICP and a whole host of other Hip-Hop acts! How did you react to the news? “You know what, I said this was the smartest thing we will do this year! The good thing about us, in this entire tour, is that nobody else on this tour sounds anything like us! But that’s a good thing because out of an all Hip-Hop bill, we take the stage and people are like, ‘What the f**k?’ Basically, we go on and people sh*t their pants!”
“We’re playing to 8,000 plus full amphitheatres. I get to play to all these new people that have probably never heard of my band. And at the end of the day it’s very beneficial. You get to make all these new fans.”
Both you and Morgan also have a clothing line - Poisoned Black Clothing. How is that doing these days? “It’s just online, but it’s great, thanx. It’s small and when we’re on tour it kinda gets neglected a little bit. We’re having a sale in July. We’re getting rid of all of our old stock and we’re bringing in a bunch of new clothes. It’s going to be something like 30% to 40% off.”
You have been labeled as ‘Metal’s Reigning Femme Fatales’! How does that sit with you? “Well, to be honest with you, we’re the only all-female band that’s been this successful in our genre - heavy metal. ‘Cause, I don’t see anybody else f**kin’ doin’ it and doin’ it well,” she laughs. “But, I’m not sitting here trying to be a champion for women’s rights, I don’t care about that sh*t. I just wanna play music.”
Why aren’t there more all-female bands out there in your musical genre? “I have no idea. Most women wanna be the front person and grab all the attention. But, I think women are really competitive with each other. And it took us a really long time to find the right people for the band who aren’t going to be like that. Because, when people feel like they have to be competitive they’re gonna eliminate themselves eventually. Because they’re gonna get big heads and start to think that they’re better than the songs.”
“I think they should all just grow some balls and pick up an instrument!”
If there was any dirt to be found online about Kittie, it was buried so deep it couldn’t be found! So, for the record, please reveal one thing about each band member right here, right now! “Yeah, we’re clean as a whistle! But, Ivy smokes … Morgan bites her nails … I talk too much … and Tara, she’s literally the nicest person in the entire universe! That’s her dirt - she’s the nicest person ever,” she laughs.
If Kittie was a secret acronym, what would the letters stand for?!
Are you on Twitter? “Yeah, Official Kittie. That is us. I twitter when I’m at home on my phone, but I can’t really use my phone when I’m in America. It’s too expensive.”
Exclusive Magazine love Penguins … do you?! “They’re pretty awesome, yeah! The big King penguins. I’ve heard that they’re actually really good pets. The little guys as obviously, the big one would kick your ass,” she laughs.
“I’m a big fan of pigs! They make micro pigs now and they sell them in England for about 5,000 pounds right now. So, I’ll wait for the price to go down!”
So, you will be buying a micro pig one day soon then?! “Oh f**k yeah,” she excitedly exclaims, “those micro pigs don’t get any bigger than a cat.!”
And have you picked out a name for it already? “Yes, if I ever get one of these micro pigs, his name will be Elliott.”
And why Elliott? “Because, it’s a cool name for a pig. And I’d feed him bacon,” she smiles, somewhat devilishly.
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
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